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adventure & travel

Morocco - A ski trip into the blue

Northwest Africa with skis is definitely worth a trip

by Lea Hartl 01/20/2013
Morocco - many people only know it from Casablanca. But a trip to the northwest African coastal state is also worthwhile on skis.

Those who travel for the sake of traveling know that the journey to the destination is often more important than the destination itself. Even when traveling with skis, it's often not just about the primary goal of skiing, but about much more. After all, it would usually be much easier to stay at home, where you know the mountains and conditions and where you can find good snow for the longest time. As a backcountry skier in particular, you have to work hard to get to know foreign regions and, for me personally at least, there is a linear, if not exponential, correlation between the distance to the local mountain and the percentage of shitty-snow days. So why should you leave the Alps in the middle of February to go to Morocco like we did? Well, if you want to collect quality ski days as efficiently as possible, you shouldn't do it at all. But if you sometimes need to break out of your daily routine, even if that routine is nice, if you have good friends who you never feel closer to than when you're traveling with them on dusty roads on pickup truck beds or in cars that are too small into the unknown, if you don't care that you're skiing in bad snow because you've learned how to swear about it in a foreign language, in other words, if you're traveling for the sake of traveling, then the question is rather why you shouldn't do it. All our planning consisted of buying a plane ticket to Marrakech and a pre-ordered cab to the mountain village of Imlil, the starting point for tours in Toubkal National Park. At 4167m, Jbel Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa. At its foot, at 3200m, is the Refuge Neltner, a hut run by the French Alpine Club, which is run by locals and used by skiers and mountaineers as a touring base.

In Imlil we found a cheap guesthouse (, where the innkeeper Hassan took care of everything. He arranged for mules to transport our luggage to the hut and instructed us to bring our own cook. To celebrate the deal, he and a few colleagues serenaded us with pots and pans over shisha and dinner, before giving instructions to the children responsible for driving the mules the next morning and explaining the unmissable route to us one last time. With unusually light backpacks, the 14 kilometers and 1400 meters of ascent to the hut turned out to be a pleasant walk in the sun. Only on the last 200 meters was there too much snow for the mules and the luggage was transferred to human shoulders with the help of Mustafa, the cook.

In the evening, the temperature in the lounge of the hut only rose a few degrees above the outside temperature due to the tightly packed bodies and the down jackets stayed on. The next morning we set off in the direction of Toubkal. The day before our arrival, it had snowed almost half a meter and the snow glistened in the barren mountain landscape in brilliant weather. Unfortunately, the base under the fluffy quality powder consisted mainly of scree and after the first hundred meters of ascent we avoided any thought of the descent. After a long ascent through a large cirque, the view opens up to the north at a yoke in front of the summit structure. The mountains drop away abruptly, first into an arid hilly landscape, then into gray-brown plains. Dust blurs the horizon, but supposedly you can sometimes see the sea from here. It was windy on the summit and we didn't stay long. Deviating from the ascent route, we descended a little into a wide trench and dedicated ourselves to the art of sensitive, defensive skiing on little snow and lots of stones. Back at the hut, the advantages of a personal chef became apparent. Mustafa had already been waiting for us and served us a warm afternoon meal as soon as we had taken off our ski boots. Over tajine and sugary mint tea, we decided to forgo prominent peaks and devote the next few days to the wind-filled gullies on the lee side of the valley, which significantly improved the overall quality of the descent. The hut became more crowded every day and Mustafa's mood deteriorated noticeably. When asked, he complained about too many cooks, salt thieves - and a toothache! He suggested we descend and spend another day in another area. A few hours later, we were back in the valley and loaded our luggage from the mules into Mustafa's brother's 1985 Mercedes. Mustafa climbed into the trunk, we squeezed into the back seat, his brother turned up the music and stepped on the gas. Mustafa translated the song lyrics (love and lovesickness) and explained the trees by the roadside (walnut and cherry). After almost an hour's drive on a winding road carved into the hillside, we arrived in Tacheddirt, one of the many hamlets in the hills around Imlil. It is a good 1000m lower than the Neltner hut, so the tours are longer. We spent our last day of skiing in Morocco training on broken snow in a long, narrow couloir. Back on the road, we were greeted by two shy, gossiping girls who hid from our cameras and to whom we gave pens. The people in the Atlas mainly speak a dialect of the Berber language group, although most are bilingual due to strong Arabic influences. Those who go to school learn French there, but this is not a matter of course everywhere. Giggling embarrassedly, the girls made us understand with their hands and feet that they would like to see our blonde hair without caps and hair bands. We did them the favor, suddenly embarrassed ourselves and aware of our difference.

After a much-needed water fight in a hammam, we headed back to Marrakech. We watched the sun set as a huge fireball over Djemaa el Fna Square, wished we could understand the storytellers, filled our bellies at the food stalls and drifted through the hustle and bustle of the markets for a whole night. On the plane home, overtired and in the satisfied, wistful mood of returning travelers, we dwelled on the new memories and began to carefully make new plans...

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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